The overthrow of King James II during the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 is one of the key events of not just English history but Irish history as well. As king, James had pursued a policy of “Catholicization” in Ireland, allowing Catholics to serve in the army and the government, which fueled anxieties among the Protestant population. When news reached them of the dramatic events in England, the Protestants began defying the Catholic authorities, who responded to what soon became an uprising against Catholic rule. The result was three of the bloodiest and most destructive years in Irish history, as the island served as the battlefield on which broader struggles were waged. This war is the subject of John Childs’s book, which details the campaigns from the initial unrest to the conclusion of the conflict.
Childs traces the success of the rebellion to the two-week period in 1688 when Derry was without a garrison, arguing that had the town been continuously occupied and the Protestants there suppressed the rebellion could not have prospered. Yet even with Derry the Protestants faced a difficult first year, as the more numerous Catholic forces gradually asserted control throughout the island. By the summer, only Derry and Enniskillen remained as Protestant holdouts, yet the arrival of forces under the command of the Duke of Schomberg managed to secure most of Ulster before the end of the campaigning season. The new year saw an increased commitment of forces against the Catholics, one led by King William III himself. With William’s army pressing down from the north, the two sides clashed at the Battle of the Boyne, which broke James’s fragile resolve. His flight left his supporters with no other option than an attrition campaign that could buy them time in the hope that William might suffer defeats elsewhere that would salvage the situation for them.
Childs recounts the conflict in considerable detail, carefully tracing the numerous skirmishes that characterized the “war of posts and ambuscades”. This results in a dense text, one that makes it challenging to follow the sequence of events. Making matters worse are the inadequate maps provided, which provide only basic geographic details, rendering them less than helpful in following the various battles and campaigns. Better maps and subheadings within the chapters would have gone far into providing a more accessible history of the war than the one Childs has written, in which the value of his examination of the conflict is offset by its inaccessibility.